KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Dozens of people gathered for the unveiling and groundbreaking of a pedestrian bridge for the Gibbs area, which is dedicated to Staff Sergeant Ryan Knauss.
Knauss was one of the 13 soldiers killed in August during the attack at the Kabul airport. Local, state and national leaders believe dedicating a pedestrian bridge for the Gibbs community is a great way to keep Knauss’ memory alive.
“A bridge named after him is a fitting memorial, and he had a passion for helping others. He died in Afghanistan helping others. He died doing what he loved to do,” U.S. Congressman Tim Burchett (R-TN 2nd District) said.
Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs and County Commissioner Richie Beeler said a bridge was needed to protect the Gibbs community. Staff, students and the general public needed way to cross Tazewell Pike between the three schools.
Beeler knew that personally, after a family member nearly died crossing the road a few years ago. “Because there was really no safe passage across the road, he was hit by a vehicle. He survived fortunately, but really raises the awareness for the need for a pedestrian bridge to cross this highway safely.”
Beeler said Tazewell Pike has to be crossed often. Whenever there is any type of larger event, such as sporting event at either school, people have to park on the opposite side of the highway and walk across the road.
“Tossed the ideas around crosswalks, which is something TDOT really would not be wild about, because of it being a busy state highway. So, the idea of a pedestrian bridge seemed the logical course of action,” Beeler said.
On Monday, they officially broke ground on that pedestrian bridge, although the real work most likely won’t start until 2022. The bridge will have Knauss’ name on it, and Beeler said it couldn’t more fitting for what the community wanted to do to honor him.
“Everybody wanted to be able to do something, and this was a way for the community to really have something to be proud of and remember Ryan by,” Beeler said.
Knauss’ family is still heartbroken over the loss of their son, but they’re also extremely proud. They said he did die doing exactly what he loved. His mother is truly grateful for the recognition of their son for this bridge.
“Ryan would think, ‘I’m part of history now.’ Ryan was the last soldier that is considered to be killed in that 20-year war. Ryan was three years old when it started. He made history,” Paula Knauss Selph, Knauss’ mother, said.
She said her son never needed to walk to Gibbs High. His freshman year, Selph and one of her friends took turns taking their kids to school. She added every year he would save his birthday money, so by the time he was 16 and a sophomore, he bought his own car and drove to school.
“That boy had enough money by his sophomore year he could buy that car, so he never had to walk home. But, he would have had to walk home if he didn’t have the foreknowledge with his mom here trying to get him to save money,” Selph said.
She said through this bridge, her son will be able to continue making history by keeping the generations after him safe for years to come.
“So when they walk across that, those children can remember there’s someone that paid a price for every step they take in a free country,” Selph said.
She added parents can rest easier, once the bridge is built, knowing her son would continue to keep their kids safe, just like he did for the kids and soldiers in Afghanistan.
“Those marines that were protected, Ryan and them were on the bullhorn protecting them by pushing back the crowds. You give Ryan a chance, he would protect your kids on this bridge,” Selph said.
Jacobs said the bridge is just one step to repaying Knauss and his family for his sacrifice, but it’s only the first of many the community should take.
“The best way, the most appropriate way is to be the best people the best Americans that we can be,” Jacobs said.
Beeler said the county is applying for several grants to help pay for the pedestrian bridge, which was estimated to cost around $2.5 to $3 million. They will have a public meeting about the project coming up later this month.
If all goes well with the planning and budget, Beeler believes work could start on the bridge by fall or winter of next year.